The process for the dismantling of the Israel Broadcasting Authority moved into high gear this week with the passing in the first reading of a bill that calls for it to be closed, and for a new public broadcasting enterprise to be established in its stead.
The closure would include Educational Television, which was already in place before Channel 1 launched its first transmission on May 2, 1968, to highlight the Israel Independence Day military parade. ETV was launched in 1966, and over the years has deviated from its original mandate which was to broadcast to schools.
Its content has become more general, spurred by a shift that took place during Operation Peace for the Galilee in 1982, when ETV, in a similar manner to Army Radio, acted as a liaison between soldiers in the field and their families at home.
For several years now, there has been talk of scaling down or closing down ETV, but until the advent of Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, it managed to weather a series of storms.
Erdan succeeded Moshe Kahlon as communications minister in March 2013.
Kahlon had instituted major reforms in reducing fees payable to mobile phone companies, thereby making use of mobile phones more affordable and creating more competition between phone companies.
Kahlon subsequently took time out from politics, but is now seen, if and when he returns to it, as a possible major rival to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In the interim, the ambitious Erdan had to do something to top the cut in the phone bill – and that was to cancel the broadcasting license fee.
But revenue from the license fee figures significantly to the IBA budget.
Erdan’s solution was to terminate the existing broadcasting institution, which does not have commercials in the full sense of the word on its television channels, and to open a new public broadcasting outlet that would have commercials.
Toward this end, he established the Landes Commission that made a series of recommendations that he accepted – the bottom line being the end of the IBA.
Erdan, with the cooperation of Finance Minister Yair Lapid, chose to ignore a negotiated and signed agreement for drastic IBA reforms, which included the dismissal of more than 700 IBA employees.
Negotiations toward this agreement were long and painful, and had been reached during the administration of the previous government.
However, the Finance Ministry had reneged, so when Erdan chose to discard the agreement, saying that it had more holes than Swiss cheese, he was stepping on fertile ground as far as the Finance Ministry was concerned.
The workforce of the IBA is somewhere in the range of 2,000. Some employees who are very close to retirement age would have been leaving anyway, and find it easier than their younger colleagues to accept the Erdan edict.
Others are in denial, refusing to believe that the threat that from time to time has loomed over their heads will finally become a reality.
Erdan’s vision of the new public broadcasting enterprise will have a much slimmer work force than that of today – some 600 people at most, including some of those who will be part of the mass dismissal.
In the past, proposed legislation and other issues related to the IBA were discussed by the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, but Erdan and Lapid reached an agreement to appoint a special committee headed by Yesh Atid MK Karen Elharar, a lawyer.
Her appointment and the composition of the eight-member committee that she will head is awaiting approval by the Knesset House Committee.
Erdan wants the committee to complete its business by the end of July, before the Knesset summer recess.
Erdan wants to dismantle the IBA by March 2015, but Labor law experts doubt that severance pay arrangements for so many people can be finalized by then. The estimated cost of firing all the IBA staff is around NIS 800 million, but it could come to a lot more.
Meanwhile Erdan is denigrating the content quality of IBA broadcasts, and IBA journalists in turn are retaliating by saying that Erdan wants reality programs such as Big Brother to dominate Israel’s television line-up instead of the in-depth investigative programs that have been produced by IBA journalists and researchers.